I’m learning to use Photoshop CC 2018 so I’ve been trying out a tutorial to redesign the Cover Photo for my Facebook page, so that the Profile Picture is integrated into the design. The photograph of me looking windswept at Sandal Castle was so bright compared with my sketchbook pages that I toned it down with a sepia wash, another Photoshop technique I needed to practice.
I’ve set up a Wild Yorkshire Facebook Page, so if you’d like to see updates about this blog:
On our journey to Leeds via Morley Tunnel, the bracken by the trackside is turning autumnal and the rosebay willowherb has mainly gone to seed. Birch, ash and sycamore foliage is tinted with ochre but buddleia and Himalayan balsam add a splash of purple on waste ground by Morley station.
I’m returning to an A5 portrait sketchbook after a few months using smaller travel sketchbooks but none of my quick sketches of a cupola and a Dutch-style gable, drawn from the M&S cafe on Trinity Street and the White Stuff on Vicar Lane even begins to fill the page.
Room for one last little landscape sketch in my postcard-sized Seawhite Watercolour Travel Journal: a stubble field at Field House Farm, Overton, seen from the Seed Room Cafe at the Horticentre. The houses of Thornhill Edge sit amongst the trees on the ridge in the background, on the far side of the Smithy Brook Valley.
The original sketch is 9 cm, just over 3 inches, across.
This female Common Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina, scuttled away as I gathered up the ivy that I’d cut back from behind the herb bed. I’d spread an old shower curtain on the ground to catch the trimmings, hence the background; the weave of the cloth gives a clue to the scale: the spider is just half a centimetre long, excluding legs.
The cucumber spider is common on trees, woods and hedgerows, where it spins a small orb web. It has a conspicuous red spot on its underside, just below the spinnerets. The male has boxing-glove style pedipalps (the small front pair of legs).
Britain’s Spiders, A Field Guide
Identifying it gave me a chance to use my new field guide, Britain’s Spiders, by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith (2017).
As I already have two spider field guides on my shelf, Collins Field Guide Spiders of Britain & Northern Europe, by Michael J. Roberts (1995), and The Country Life Guide to Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Dick Jones (1983), did I really need another?
Dick Jones had support from Kodak and Pentax when he photographed 350 species of spiders and harvestmen for the Country Life Guide(top right), but his Kodachromes can’t quite match the clarity of the digital photographs in the latest guide, which also has the advantage of up-to-date distribution maps, even so, the Country Life Guide is useful to have for a second opinion when you’re checking out a species.
Collins Field Guide
If you were getting serious about identifying spiders, you’ll need a copy of Michael J Roberts’ guide, because, in addition to 288 colour paintings, he includes 1,500 line drawings of the spiders’ reproductive organs, which would be essential if you were trying, for example, to distinguish between the Common Cucumber Spider, Araniella curcurbitina (which is most likely to be the one that I found), and it’s near identical relative, the Cucumber Spider, A. opisthographa.
“The distinguishing features of the male palpal organs are best seen from below,” says Roberts, “and this is difficult with a field microscope, unless the specimen is particularly obliging.”
He explains how to construct a homemade ‘spi-pot’ to harmlessly examine a spider in the field. But don’t feel inadequate if you can’t tell one species of cucumber spider from another because it seems that even the spiders themselves occasionally get it wrong:
“Very rarely, specimens may appear rather intermediate, possibly due to hybridisation.”
I had airbrushed cigarette card portraits of football stars of the 30s and 40s in mind as I traced this newspaper photograph of Lincoln City full back (1939-1947), Alex Thompson (who would later be one of my teachers at junior school). You can see the coarse dotted screen tones of the original in the background of my drawing.
Unfortunately, by enlarging the photograph, I’ve lost clues to the shape of the face that you can pick up in the small version. They get flattened into amorphous grey areas of pixels when enlarged.
Drawn from Memory
If you allow for his face filling out since his lean, fit footballing days, I don’t think that my drawn-from-memory brush and ink of him as a teacher was too far off the mark. I drew this before I came across the photograph.
My grandad, Robert Bell, always referred to my grandma Jane as Ginny. That name must have gone back a long way because, delving back into my family tree on Find My Past, I’ve found that she was entered on the 1901 census as ‘Jennie Bagshawe’ (in fact, that should be Bagshaw, but I think that extra ‘e’ adds a certain cachet).
Then aged 22, she was working as cook in the household of Helen Taylor, widow, alongside Clara Holmes, 21, housemaid, who was born in Eckington, Derbyshire. Also resident at Mrs Taylor’s was her son, Joseph G Taylor, aged 37, a saw manufacturer.
Sheffield was heavily bombed during the World War II Blitz so many of the homes of my ancestors, including my mum’s family home and my great-grandma’s home next door, were destroyed, so I was delighted to find that the house where grandma cooked so many meals was still intact, along with its gateposts.
I can imagine Jennie and Clara sharing the attic room. I once asked grandma what was involved in domestic work and she recalled that it was a long day, starting with setting the fires very early in the morning.
I remember that she was a good cook and it was amazing how she and Robert could create a Sunday dinner, Yorkshire puddings included, for seven at Vine Cottage with just a single ring on a paraffin primus stove and the oven in the cast iron range, heated by a coal fire. The kettle, with its handle insulated by string wound around it, went on some kind of a rack in front of the fire.
In 1975 or 76, I cooked her my signature dish at the time, lasagne, and I think that she was quite impressed. As she made her way back down the stairs from my first floor flat, she fell and rolled down several steps at the bottom of the first flight but just picked herself up on the landing, giggling. She was in her nineties at the time!
I once asked grandad why, as a country boy, with a job in the stables of a big house, he’d headed for Sheffield.
“Because a certain young lady had gone there!” he replied.
It’s all rather romantic and I’m glad he made the journey as, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here today.
Now, thanks to Google Maps and Find my Past, I know where she worked at the time. Did she ever look out of that arched window and spot young Bob coming to call on her on her day off?
I’ve struggled with this sketch of my fourth year junior school teacher, not just because I’m still trying out new techniques in Clip Studio Paint but also because, although I’ve got a vivid image of him in my mind, I find it hard to capture that in a drawing.
Barbara thinks that I’ve made him look too young and I think that’s partly down to exaggerating the size of his hands and face.
I found my previous year teacher, Mr Thompson, easier; he was nearing retirement and was a larger than life character. Mr Lindley was a great teacher, in mid-career – he went on to become a headmaster – and he didn’t have the kind of foibles that lend themselves to caricature.
I might try the headmaster Mr Douglas next and come back to Mr Lindley when I’ve improved my technique.
I’ve dropped a few sketchbook drawings into a comic page template. I don’t know if I’ll ever master the technique of hand-drawn lettering using a graphics pad but at least with these frames from Clip Studio Paint, I’ve at last succeeded in creating the effect of a drawing bursting out of a frame.
Drawings from Ossett; di Bosco, Horbury Bridge; and Epworth, North Lincolnshire. The two on the left are pen and watercolour, the building on the right was coloured in Clip Studio.
I’m struggling to take in all the options available but I’m learning; for instance, when exporting a comic page like this for the web, you’d think that the sharpest JPEG image would be the best but a midway quality setting produces a smoother image, fewer artefacts, such as fringes around the lettering.
I drew these cushions in pen and ink at Barbara’s brother’s the other day but left the colouring for later, to give me some practice with the Clip Studio Paint watercolor brush tool, in this case set to opacity watercolor. As usual, the pen layer stays on top, in crisp monochrome.
In keeping with my current interest in comics, I’ve included a hand-drawn border. Any detail in a comic should help to tell the story, so I tried to bring out the character of these cushions, as if they were set dressing in a scene.
As characters, I’d say these cushions are laid back but a little rumpled and worn at the seams. Perhaps they’re the louche, laid back, Lotharios of the cushion world, slouching suspiciously in the corner as they hatch their next scheme.
Or perhaps they’re just ordinary cushions but guilty of a bit of overacting.